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Branching out - Odessa American: Community

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Branching out

Odessan opens store for cancer patients, survivors

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Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2013 9:00 am

Anita Harris used to drive 800 miles to shop.

It’s not that she was picky. She just had a hard time finding products she needed in Odessa until she opened The Pink Tree in April, a specialty shop offering a wide-range of mastectomy products, including prosthetics.

“An 800-mile round trip was ridiculous,” Harris, who battled breast cancer three years ago, said. “I would go to my doctor appointments and ask, ‘Where do I find this?’ And they would say we really don’t know or there’s not a place here. Our goal is to make this journey easier for other people. I’ve had to ask a lot of questions, do a lot of research and travel a lot to find things.”

Diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2009, Harris went through several surgeries and chemotherapy. Afterward, she developed lymphedema, a painful condition that can form after lymph node removal.

Harris tried shopping online but became frustrated when items didn’t fit properly and she was spending more money on shipping than anything else.

She has been a respiratory therapist at Alliance Medical Supply for nearly 25 years but knew she wanted to open a store last year while continuing to work with her existing patients.

“I had been thinking about it probably about a year,” she said. “I was not able to leave my patients because the relationships you form with people are really important to me.”

The cozy store, tucked inside Alliance Medical Supply, 2333 E. Eighth St., Suite B, offers prosthetics and specialty clothing. They also carry glitter hats, scarves and what Harris calls “comfort items,” including teddy bears and blankets.

“Every time I was in the hospital, I had a friend bring me a gift and one of the things was a teddy bear,” Harris said. “Once I had this major surgery in my arm it was hard to sleep so I put the little teddy bear under my arm and slept with that for a very long time while I was healing and it was still sore. I’m a grown woman but I slept with this little teddy bear under my arm because it was the only thing that was soft.”

The items are made to be functional but that doesn’t mean they can’t be fashionable. 

“Just because you’ve lost your hair and breasts or whatever, it’s important that you still feel like you look right and normal,” Harris said. “I still got up and came to work but it is really hard to get up and make yourself go to work sometimes. I offer scarves, hats and beanies that are already styled and feminine.”

Odessan Jo Hafer battled breast cancer 14 years ago and said she wishes the store had been around then.

It has just been wonderful to find The Pink Tree,” Hafer, 81, said. “It is a wonderful addition to our area for mastectomy products. They take care of you. I was a real challenge for a fitting and they were wonderful. It’s very personal and those women are just so nice, appreciative and they know how to make you feel comfortable.”

Odessan Anne Dittrich, 41, is battling cancer and said she is thankful for the store.

"The atmosphere is very soothing, peaceful and serene,” Dittrich, 41, said. “I felt really uplifted. If she doesn’t carry what you need, she’s willing to help. I just think it’s really neat that she’s able to reach out to the community.”

Harris designed an extra large fitting room with a seating area to make customers feel more comfortable.

The one thing you won’t find at the store is wigs.

“I very purposefully didn’t do wigs because you can go to other places and have wigs done,” she said. “I didn’t want to step on their toes.”

Harris is encouraged by the feedback she has received so far and hopes to expand in the future and offer more items based on her customers’ needs.

“The feedback has been fantastic,” she said. “It has made me realize I did the right thing. I’m very thankful.”

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